The road to copying part 2 – Why do people copy?

I wrote last week on some ideas I had about the teaching of art in schools. I wrote that art is more than just drawing and that just copying old artists stifles creativity. I had lots of responses to my blog and this is part 2…

If we teach children that their art is only good when it is as near a faithful copy of the original as possible –when do they learn how to be creative? I view children’s imaginations as funnels in that when they are born they have the most amazing wide imaginations, they are free thinkers who ask the big questions with no preconceptions, no embarrassment and with a sense of awe and wonderment. This is the wide part of the funnel. Slowly over time we, as a society, through schooling, lack of time at home and other factors squeeze out the imagination and ask them to copy pictures in art lessons and write stories to formulas that will achieve levels in Sats tests. By the time they leave primary school they may have that long coveted level 4 or 5 but they are at the end of the funnel having had their imaginations squashed in order to achieve having been taught to a test. It’s sad but true in lots of schools…

When left to roam children find art everywhere. From an arrangement of conkers to the colours of leaves. From the patterns that shadows cast to the discovery of ‘wow Mum, have you seen how many greens there are in the grass?’ They will build sculptures out of junk (and parents don’t need to be sold books in order to ‘help’ their children to do this they will do it naturally!)they notice carved monkeys’ in museums and ask ‘how was that made?’ They will colour, draw, paint cover anything with glitter (it gets everywhere!) they stick, tear, fold and cut and sit back and admire their creation. Given the space they look at what they have done, reflect that it is marvellous or go to work again to make it the idea they had in their head. They will ask advice, seek opinion (offer opinions) and concentrate like you wouldn’t believe (even boys!) when the interest takes them. Children can spend hours doing art.

If they are allowed.

So why does it all go wrong? I have a business and I sell, at the moment, solely through facebook. More and more I am seeing cries of ‘I have been copied!!’ And, actually, when you look and are able to see the imposter then yes, they have. I’ve seen many copies of many products and this really is what started me thinking about creativity, how it develops and how we encourage it. If you’re taught as a child that copying is the best art and most of us don’t go onto taking GCSE or A Level then all we have to fall back on is our experience of school. That ‘we have to make it look like the artists work otherwise it isn’t good’ means that we didn’t get to experiment, try out ideas, get things wrong but learn from it and we just didn’t get to let our imaginations run lose and this, I think is the problem.

Okay, someone can sew and maybe they can sew well but that doesn’t mean that they are able to create unique products so how do they develop their ideas? They look at someone else’s and copy that. If you look on the flip slide those who copy are screaming out to the world ‘look at me! I have no creativity’ I don’t know if they know this or if they even care but when I look at other people’s work on facebook I chose what I buy with care. I asked Little Floating Craft Company to draw me a picture of me (girl with fuzzy hair) on the back of a narrowboat (the picture above) and I wanted the boat’s name to be ‘Mine’ and this she did, amazingly well. I love it, it’s made for me and no one has another one. I bought a piece of artwork form Kirsty Elson and it’s gorgeous, we’ve had so many comments about it as it’s the first piece of art you see when you walk into the cottage. I’ve contacted her to ask if she can do another, slightly larger piece for us to go underneath and she’s agreed. We’ve talked about rough ideas but I know I can leave her to create her picture and I know I’ll love it.

How do I know this? When you create you are using your thoughts, your ideas and your skills. I do exactly this. I have a go at an idea, I ask opinions I refine it or I may completely change it and it evolves organically into the products you see on my page. My agenda is that anything I produce should be able to be used for many years to come or have different functions. I test durability, ask advice re pricing and I do get some of my followers to test products out for me just to check they are okay. In short I have lived, breathed (bored my husband) and woken up in the night with my idea and I know it inside out. Those who copy haven’t done this. They’ve looked at what others have done and taken the shortcut. This may work in the short-term but eventually they are found out and then what do they do? They haven’t developed their creativity, extended their skills and then surely, they don’t really have a business with credibility. It’s absolutely fine to be ‘inspired’ by others work. I was enthralled by Heidi from Extra Special Touch’s Heirloom blanket that she made using decorative stitches on her sewing machine. I had a go myself, we chatted about how to do it, she gave me so much advice (she gives me the most amazing advice and I thank her for that x) and I made a cushion using the ideas I saw on her page. I credited her all along the way; I put a link on my page to her heirloom quilt so people can see the original idea. That’s fine to do as far as I can see. I’ve learned a new skill that I’ll use again and I really enjoyed it too! Also if it’s your product then you can produce it again with slight alterations and maybe even in a different media. You’ve had the thought process and used your artistic skill to create what you do so it’s easy for you to replicate. Someone who copies, on the whole, cannot do this easily.

Our house is full of ‘nearly alrights… .’ the cushions that I tried different coloured stitching, the Wee Hamish’s that I first used the machine on, the memory blankets made for the first time. People come and say ‘oh I love this’ and I quickly run over, try to hide it under a mountain of toys as I make excuses as to why it’s not really up to scratch. I’m a perfectionist (and I refuse to throw things away even though the colour of the stitching may not be right!) and more often than not they stand looking a little confused as they can’t quite see merit in my protestations. A few people leave with a ‘nearly alright’, my neighbour’s daughter has had a gingerbread man with green stitching just this week but then she did use my template to make her own gingerbread men biscuits to enter into the local village show. She made them herself, decorated them herself and won first prize. Now there’s true creativity so why not have a ‘nearly alright’ to take home to keep after the last crumb has been swallowed.

So. Creativity is amazing and should be encouraged wherever and whenever it strikes. Getting it out on paper, on canvas, in stitching or whatever form your art takes is exhilarating. To see in reality what you have had in your head is wonderful and there have been some items I’ve been sad to see go –the Lego quilt is a very good example; sewing 144 circles using a sewing machine isn’t something I want to do again soon but when it was finished boy was I proud of myself! Being inspired is absolutely fine too. To use someone else’s work to create something new is a compliment. You can be lucky enough to meet or talk to your inspiration; you could discuss how something was made and how you intend to use it. This collaborative approach is fabulous and can give you great insight into techniques and skills and you come out all the richer but you do have to use the inspiration to create something new and original. Copying is bad. Copying is boring. But it’s also lazy, unimaginative and a little bit sad. So the next time you see someone copying someone else try not get angry, stay away from the ‘post’ button, vitriolic posts won’t win the day. Sit back from the computer, take a deep breathe, tut and sigh because they actually don’t have imagination and creativity and the only way to protest at their actions is to never visit their page again…




About littlewhitecottage

Emma is a qualified teacher with 14 years of teaching in many different settings. From teaching adults and children at a music school to choosing to work in a demanding primary school that was failing (which meant moving from an outstanding school – her colleagues were aghast!) to running her own sewing business for the last 5 ½ years teaching all ages how to sew: Emma loves to teach.
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2 Responses to The road to copying part 2 – Why do people copy?

  1. Heidi says:

    Interesting read Emma and I agree wholeheartedly that creativity is amazing! My head is always buzzing with ideas and yes, I too have woken in the night with a new idea and won’t sleep again until I have meticulously planned its construction from start to finish. Unfortunately I lack the time to get them all out of my head and into reality, but I have one or two people on my waiting list who have asked me to design and create something totally new and different for them, so I’m really looking forward to them nearing the top of the list because it will give me a chance to bring at least some of these ideas into fruition! :o)

  2. Love this one Emma and not just cos little old floaty me is in there (thankyou for your kind words by the way, made my day!). My aunt once said to my dad who never got to go to art college, that she envied him, and wished she’s never gone as it had regulated and forced all the creativity out of her. I think tutorage of the creative subjects can give the most amazing array of skills, but I always hated the way we were taught to copy things. Inspiration is essential but should be a starting point, not a finishing point. Here’s to inspiration, and may the copiers sleep uneasy til they do their own thing!! lol! xxx

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